A Passage to India

I studied this book by E.M. Forster for A Level.  Exams, especially in literature, are designed to drain all interest from what might otherwise have been a good novel. So, my views on this book have always been clouded somewhat by the background knowledge that I spent hours trying to deconstruct the meaning rather than enjoy it.

Nearly forty years later and I think sufficient time has passed to read it again and this time as a reader rather than as a pupil.  I was surprised by how much I appreciated the story, especially the way the narrative had been constructed.  Another casualty of the ‘set book syndrome’ is that you end up moving backwards and forwards across the text to identify themes or gather quotes to support an essay statement. Quite soon, the idea that the book has an arc and that the deeper meaning is layered across the plot is lost.

I remember having a soft spot for both Aziz and Fielding as Forster himself must have done.  The Indian doctor and the British headteacher have a friendship not reflected elsewhere in the society in which they lived.  The visitors, Mrs Moore and Miss Quested, while central to the drama have an outsiders view of relations between the races in the Raj.  Their connection to the ‘real’ India is one of observation of the exotic.  Fielding’s answer that they should try seeing Indians if they want to see India is at the heart of Forster’s message.

I was glad to return to this novel so many years later.  I sourced the version I used in a classroom in the 70s; I needed the same cover, size of book and feel of the pages. It worked for me.

‘A Passage to India’ by E. M. Forster is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

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Gravitation

This is the first manga series I read!  Inspired by an article in the New Statesman magazine, I searched out the first volume and then read through to the twelfth and last.  Written and illustrated by Maki Murakami, it tells the story of Shuichi Shindo and his band as they rise to stardom.  Shuichi is in love with the romance novelist Eiri Yuki.  The two men form a relationship which is odd since the aloof Yuki is hard to like.  Their first meeting came when Shuichi’s lyrics blew out of his hand in a park and were picked up by the writer.  His response that the work was rubbish hurt the aspiring singer but the enigmatic figure intrigued him enough for him to pursue him, a decision that led to their relationship.

The story of the ups and downs of living together is told across the twelve volumes along with the complementary plot of the success of the band which Shuichi formed with his best friend Hiroshi Nakano.  As with most of the manga and anime that feature late teenagers, the parental presence is reduced so that decisions about moving in with a famous romance novelist can be made without reference to parents.

The manga was a lot of fun, especially in the early episodes.  Later stories stretched the patience somewhat but, having started, I was determined to finish.  ‘Gravitation’ led me to explore other manga series and anime so it has a special place in my hinterland as the starting point for the further discoveries.

 

Your Name

This excellent 2016 anime from Japan makes you think about identity and gender.  The concept of a boy and a girl changing places is one that has been explored in other films but this one has an extra dimension of time and chronology to add to the mix.  The high school boy from Tokyo and the girl of the same age from rural Japan swap places unwillingly and realise that this new life is bringing around changes in their personalities as well as their fortunes.

There is a lot of fun to be had from the gender swap concept but the film is less interested in gender difference and more interested in personality.  This makes it a more perceptive film.  Their friends notice the differences in their manners before they do.  In agreeing to communicate with each other, they set up a very modern solution to the problem: mobile phones are used to record diary entries.  When back in their own bodies, they can see what ‘they’ might have done the day before.  This is best shown when the boy goes on a date his other self set up for him.

Then the swapping stops!  To lose the central idea of the film about two thirds through is a brave choice as the story develops into one of a young man pursuing a young woman who knows him like nobody else.  This task seems impossible when his research in news media tells him it would be a waste of time.

I watched the version with sub-titles so that I could hear the Japanese language, even though I don’t understand it.  I could not cope with American voices taking over, acting like a cultural gravy over the whole affair.

Mokoto Shinkai directed the film.  Ryunosuke Kamiki played the young man and Mone Kamishiraishi played the young woman.

‘Your Name’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

The Jewel in the Crown

I am late to the Paul Scott ‘Raj Quartet’ party!  I remember the fuss around the television series in the 80s, the first time I heard about the series of novels, but I didn’t read them back then. It has taken many years to get around to starting them and over fifty years since the first novel was published.  I am glad I did!

The novel is about the dying days of the British Empire rule of India and centres on Hari Kumar (or Harry Coomer as he once styled himself) a young Indian, brought up in England and sounding more English than the English, and Daphne Manners, a young British woman serving in India since the war back home took the lives of her immediate family.  Their growing relationship causes many other people to notice, on both sides of the racial divide.  There are other characters who exemplify the strict British code of living apart from the Indian people and Indians who are suspicious of anyone who gets close to the British. Then there is Miss Crane, deemed eccentric because of her willingness to treat Indians as people, and Ronald Merrick, the Chief of Police who believes that liberal attitudes will be the undoing of the Empire.

Told in a form of research gathered into a case of an attack on Daphne Manners and the aftermath, we have diary extracts, letters and interviews.  There is an exploration of the back story of key characters, especially Hari Kumar and Daphne Manners and over the course of the novel we piece together the story of the attack.  The book works well because it maintains interest in the central drama despite revealing this information on the first page.

The British rule in India in the early 40s was one of expectation that the people of India would support the war effort; why would they not be loyal to the throne in the time of need?  Not every Indian understands why a war involving the British should involve them and the Japanese threat is less of a threat to fellow Asians.

With themes of identity, race and Empire, this book remains essential reading.  It is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

 

 

 

The Boy with the Topknot

Sathnam Sanghera’s memoir was a brilliant evocation of his childhood as well as an exploration of what it is like to have a past truth revealed.  In this case, the discovery of his father’s mental illness and the impact this must have had on his mother.  Dealing with the past as an adult threw up for him his feelings about what he might have known but did not confront.  It was a terrific exploration of how families cope and how they create their own histories.  It was a wonderful book so no surprise that BBC television made a film version.

Sacha Darwan plays the adult Sathnam Sanghera as he heads back home from his high powered job on a national newspaper in London.  His family in Wolverhampton have a life that seems alien to him now, especially as he has a girlfriend in London who is neither Punjabi nor Sikh.  He has yet to reveal this truth since it would break with family tradition.  On the other hand, his parents have a secret from him, one that is revealed when he helps them with packing.  The medication for his father is to control his schizophrenia.  The shock for the adult Sathnam is that he never knew this central aspect of his family’s story.  He was equally unaware that his sister seems to exhibit the same symptoms as his father.

This is a story of uncovering the past and coming to terms with it.  The film shows the younger Sathnam as a shadow figure looking on as his adult self walks the old streets of his childhood city.  Coming to terms with the past also involves coming to terms with the present: there is a partner, who as white British, may not be accepted in his family; the time has come to find out.

The book was excellent and the film lives up to the calibre of the written word even if the story has to be pared down for the benefit of the screen.  In telling the central story much of his school life is jettisoned here.  Yet it is a film with heart and one that does justice to Sathnam Sanghera’s memoir.

 

Frome in Palestine

This exhibition in the Somerset town of Frome was planned to coincide with the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration in 1917.  The interesting angle taken by the organisers was to place local history onto an international picture.  The main part of the exhibition was actually called ‘Britain in Palestine’ and was displayed at SOAS in London a few years ago.  This exhibition has a local element added with memories and photographs of Frome people who served in Palestine during the British Mandate in the police or the army or people who now live in Frome who had relatives or past connections with the country.

The photographs are black and white as you would expect and there is a large amount of writing to wade through but it is an important period. Once again, it seems, the ending of the British rule of part of the world ends in an ugly way; the complications of the promises made to both Jewish and Muslim leaders did not help matters.

The people included here were soldiers, policemen, refugees, clerics and people of faith, tourists and civil servants.  Some went there because they were commanded to while others headed to the country for the heritage or the promise of a new life.  The hopes of Jewish people, some desperate from the effects of war, were hard to reconcile with the hopes of the Arab inhabitants who lived there.

At the centre of the problem was a British politician who believed he had the right to make decisions about a part of the world his country ruled. Oh, the British Empire!

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Saigon Calling

The work of Joe Sacco inspired me to find more graphic novels and graphic reportage so, after years of never going near the shelf with all the ‘comic books’, I now look out for new titles that are worth reading.  This memoir by Marcelino Truong is brilliant.  It follows an earlier work that I have yet to read but this volume covering the years 1963- 1975 is an excellent evocation of an interesting era.  It makes it more interesting that the author/artist has dual heritage: his mother was French and his father Vietnamese.  His father’s job in the Embassy in London brought the family to Britain and, although he changed jobs, this where they stayed.

Truong combines information about the Vietnam War with a personal family story.  Where the two overlap, the most insights are to be found.  In some senses, this is the story of every family.  ‘Marco’ grew up in London at the same time I did so the references, both pictorial and written, to the changing times are of particular interest.  So, too, is the invitation to consider the Vietnam War from a different angle.  It isn’t the American angle but neither is it the contrary North Vietnamese view of things. Instead, Marco sees the radical students around him supporting the anti- colonial forces of the north and cannot understand why the communists are seen as benign.  His position is one of concern for the family and friends in South Vietnam.

As his hair grew longer in the 70s so did his understanding of what was actually going on in Vietnam.  When he moves to France as a teenager, he continues to find himself in the middle of the conflict between North Vietnamese supporting students and those who support the ‘western values’.

This memoir has a parallel story, though.  It is one of being of mixed heritage and of living with a mother who has bipolar disorder.  The effect of these two factors in his growing up and the directions taken by each of his siblings make for a poignant reminder of what family life can be.

‘Saigon Calling’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?BlogSaigonCalling